Helping the helpers

Talking to survivors of trauma also affects the helper. For all helpers empathy is an essential aspect of good help. This is also a source for compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatisation or secondary traumatic stress (STS). How are helpers to manage their own stress?

Early recognition and awareness is crucial to be resilient to these symptoms. Awareness of this is important for workers in areas of conflict and disaster, and in extreme environments such as these, people may be more vulnerable to secondary traumatisation. We also know that professionals under this kind of stress may be at risk to perform less efficiently and not perform as they would normally do. Even large organizations that have the resources and knowledge about this particular kind of stress may have reduced capacity to deal with or take care of the affected personnel. As for local helpers, there may often not be any support or resources at all to deal with this. On MHHRI’s thematic page for helping the helpers we have gathered links that can be useful for all persons engaged in this kind of important but heavy work.

It is important to develop strategies to cope with situations that might cause vicarious trauma reactions. What helps you to take your mind off your work or your thoughts? How can you rest your body as well as your mind? Does an activity inspire you or put you in a better mood? If you find it useful, you can also use the grounding techniques that you teach survivors. Helpers who have been personally exposed to GBV have additional reasons to be stressed. At the same time, their experience can give them a special understanding of the hardships and vulnerability of survivors, And this should be recognised and valued.

Like survivors, helpers need support groups. If possible, meet regularly with other helpers to discuss your experiences and feelings, or do things together. If there are too few helpers in your area to create a support group, find friends and other people you trust with whom you can share your feelings without breaking the confidentiality of the survivors you are helping.